Why Dragons young gun told coach to drop him
MATT Dufty walked into Paul McGregor's office at Dragons HQ and told his NRL coach how he felt.
The 22-year-old was "tired" and "drained". He was mentally exhausted.
He felt his body was struggling to keep pace with the rigours of playing professional rugby league every week.
He told McGregor not to pick him in the team.
That was leading into St George Illawarra's Round 24 meeting against Canterbury. The team had lost three of their past four games and their once-promising season was spiralling downwards at a rapid rate.
Dufty and McGregor agreed he would be picked in the team after all, but the coach would name him on the bench instead of starting him at fullback.
"I went and spoke to Mary and told him I was pretty drained physically and mentally," Dufty told foxsports.com.au this week.
"I just wasn't feeling 100 per cent and I didn't think it was right for me to take the field.
"He said he was thinking the same thing but he wasn't going to drop me ... but I didn't think it was right and we agreed I should have a week off or play off the bench."
An injury to Dufty's replacement Jason Nightingale meant the young gun was thrown into the action much sooner than had been planned.
The Dragons went on to lose the game 38-0 to bottom eight-bound Bulldogs and Dufty was later called out for some of his efforts in defence during the game.
Two days later McGregor walked into the video session and delivered one of the all-time sprays at his players.
Foxsports.com.au has been told - not by Dufty - McGregor's blow-up almost blew the roof off WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
The coach then told the players to take two days off work, get away from football and think about how they wanted to end their 2018 NRL season.
For Dufty, that two-day break totally reignited the fire in his belly.
"I know it really helped me because I was able to freshen up and get my head right, get my body right. It was what I needed," he said.
"(McGregor) gave us a (verbal) beating but then he said we should all be excited, we're playing finals footy. He said go away and get yourself right for the game against Newcastle.
"It was good to just spend time with friends and family, get away from footy and get away from all the media. I didn't really use my phone, I just got away.
"It was good to get that balance because it's just been footy for 25 weeks and I know I needed that rest."
Dufty's condition would best be diagnosed as the dreaded second year syndrome - an affliction suffered during the second season of a young sports star's career.
His form was beginning to drop, the team was struggling, and there was plenty of negative press starting to seep into Wollongong.
He says the decision to approach McGregor for a heart-to-heart was the best he could have made.
"Mary is pretty open and pretty easy to talk to as a coach," he said.
"He's played first grade so he's been through all the season and all the different feelings. Having him there to talk to was all I needed."
Dufty says the difference in attitude around the playing group was stark when they returned for the captain's run ahead of Round 25.
They went up to Newcastle and beat the Knights, booking an elimination final showdown with Brisbane.
Then they stunned the NRL by causing a boilover and beating the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium. Now they look ahead to South Sydney this weekend.
The turning point - at least for their young fullback - was those two days away from the game.
"I got that energy back that I had when I started playing at the start of the year, when I was bouncing around and playing footy how I usually do," Dufty said.
"The last couple of weeks my form has been back and I've been happy ... I'm throwing the ball more, making my tackles and doing all that good stuff.
"I got into training before the Knights game and we were going on a trip with the boys and everyone was in a good mood.
"I had that drive again, which is what had been missing.
"That plane trip after the Brisbane trip was probably the happiest I've been in my whole time in first grade.
"Singing the song after the game you could see how happy everyone was, how happy the coaching staff was. That feeling won't be forgotten any time soon."